the unexpected.

kathyescobar advent & lent, incarnational, jesus is cool 5 Comments

each one of them is jesus in disguise

yesterday was palm sunday and we had a really fun & sweet palm sunday dinner together at the refuge, one of our annual traditions. one of the reasons i like this particular day in holy week is it’s the time when we remember the anticipation and excitement of Jesus’ riding into jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy and save the day. so many thought that this was their moment, the time when the messiah, the king, would topple the power structures and save the day.

little did they know that what they expected would turn out so much different just a few days later when instead of kicking ass and taking names, he’d humbly die on the cross right before everyone’s very eyes.

God does the weirdest, most unexpected things.  

it got me thinking about the perception of christians in this world, especially in the west right now. goodness gracious, we have a bad reputation. and for good reason.

we are often known for what we are against, not what we are for.

we are often known for being judgmental and exclusive.

we are often known for taking care of ourselves, not others.

we are often known for our “biblical” interpretations about women in leadership, the GLBQT community, and those of other faiths that perpetuate division and oppression.

we are often known for abusing power & creating celebrity christian empires that eventually fall because of corruption or adultery or abuse.

in fact, i think that’s what the world has come to expect about us as christians–the worst.

and it makes me sad because there are so many amazing christ-followers all over the place doing so many wild & beautiful & underground & unnoticed & tangible & scary & brave & glorious things on behalf of healing and reconciliation.  their stories often aren’t the ones being told. and often, they don’t tout their christian-ness.   

sometimes when i am talking to public agencies or organizations that aren’t faith-based, they admit that their impression of christians hasn’t been the best. they’ve come to expect that we aren’t very safe, don’t play well with others, and are mainly interested in evangelism, not unconditional caring & practical help.

this holy week, i am always reminded that Jesus’ ways and the ways-of-the-church-that-have-adopted-the-world’s-power-mongering-and-division-y ways are so contrary.

Jesus, from birth to death to resurrection to reappearance, is all about the unexpected.

like mind-boggling, soul-stirring, heart-shifting unexpected.

that’s what i love.

and it makes me think that that is what we should be giving the world as his followers, too--the unexpected, not the status quo.

and the unexpected these days means:

showing up when no one else will.

touching lepers, dining with the riff-raff, and advocating for the one-about-to-be-stoned-for-their-sin

playing well with others.

caring for the poor instead of the pretty and popular.

empowering women and others who have been considered less-than.

listening instead of talking.

receiving instead of just giving.

sharing our doubts instead of only our certainties.

having fun instead of being so freaking serious all the time.

throwing parties.

sharing our broken stories instead of just our fixed ones. 

putting relationship above belief.  

yeah, that’s unexpected.

happy holy week. you don’t have to call it that or practice it or feel connected to it in the traditional way to play.

i suppose that’s unexpected, too.


ps: my friend christine sine always has all kinds of lovely treasures for holy week on her site. check them out here.  also, a few different people shared a new resource with me–the liturgists–that has some wild and beautiful liturgies on it. enjoy!

the difference between “cultivating communities” and “building churches”

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, dreams, incarnational, leadership, the refuge 15 Comments

eat laugh practice stay

i originally wrote this post in 2010, and it’s part of down we go. but in the past couple of weeks i’ve had some interesting conversations that reminded me of it and i thought i’d pare it down and re-post it. it’s funny, still, after these years, my thought is pretty much the same except for adding one more point at the end.

there’s a huge difference between cultivating a community & building a church.  

like the word “pastor”, the word “church” has become gravely misunderstood. if the average person was asked what they thought of when they heard the word “church”, most people would say “sunday morning, music or worship, a sermon, prayer, potlucks, either really boring or really inspiring (depending on which kind of churches they’ve been part of).”

i doubt that people would associate the word church with deep and meaningful connections with people, carrying each other’s burdens, eating with one another, sharing resources, advocating for the marginalized, sacrificing comfort, and bringing the good news to hard places together in practical, tangible ways.” 

i personally think it’s fairly easy to build a “church.” the typical elements are not that hard to find–a gathering place, music, a good message, and some kind of programmatic glue will usually do the trick. if the music and message are good enough, some Christians out there will come. i’m not saying they’ll come in droves–that’s a unique phenomenon these days, but if the basic elements are there, certain people will come and find what they are looking for.

cultivating real community is a whole other animal.

over the course of the refuge, we’ve muddled around in all kinds of ways and have definitely had our shares of ups & downs & “what in the $(#&!@*^! are we doing?” moments, but i’d say the one thing that has always been central is focusing on cultivating a diverse, experiential, advocacy-infused, transformational healing community.

it’s also why we’re small. sometimes it’s all just…weird. the formulas work for a reason.

formulas can build churches.

but the formulas don’t create community.

finding ways to knit hearts together, share life and meals, gather around a common purpose but allow for a wide range of diversity and perspectives, nurture a spirit of justice and action, and somehow create a safe and challenging container to learn to love Jesus, ourselves and others and be loved by Jesus, ourselves, and others requires a whole different way of thinking.

here are a few of my thoughts about the difference between “cultivating communities” and “building churches”

  • cultivating a community requires an extremely high level of relationship that many of us haven’t learned to really do. this is where i think “church” has done a disservice to many; we have often focused on bible teaching but not bible applying. even though we know it doesn’t work that way, we keep thinking “teaching about love” will equal love. the way to learn how to love is to have chances to practice love. we practice in close relationship and have our lives rub up against each other. Jesus’ call to us love, really love, can’t be ignored, and like so many other ways of the kingdom it requires a level of commitment that most of us aren’t really excited to make. being devoted to sacrificial love for one another can’t happen when we sit in the pews and listen to a message and just go home or only hang out in a small group that talks about the bible but never what’s going on in the deep places of our heart and experience.
  • cultivating a community isn’t measurable. relationships can’t be measured. life change never happens in a snap. slogging it out over the long haul is brutal and tries our patience. the fruit is harder to see, sometimes completely imperceptible to the un-Jesus-trained eye. the “results” we tend to look for as humans is sometimes elusive. church building looks for quicker fixes, success stories, measurables, things to capitalize on to take it to the next level.
  • cultivating a community requires breaking down power differentials. that’s what i love about true community, brothers and sisters of all walks of life really in the trenches together. it’s also why i appreciate jean vanier’s book, community and growth, so much, too. real community crosses gender, socioeconomics, education, and other great divides that tend to typically separate us. in community, the relationships aren’t “to” or “for” but they are truly “with.” and in real community, everyone can play and participate, not just the pretty, popular, or powerful.
  • cultivating a community usually doesn’t provide financial stability. i whine about money all the time because i know the pressure that could be lifted if the refuge could get a big church’s coffee budget for the year. but i’m also glad we don’t compromise our values and our core DNA to attract a certain type of people who would help us not have to struggle so much. though some who have means to help with $ do come and stay, they don’t have more power or voice and are in the same boat, just looking for a place to love and be loved like all of us. we are all here because we want to be together. it also means we always have more needs than resources but somehow it always works out in the end.
  • cultivating a community values diversity not homogeneity.  this means holding the tension of a wide variety of differences together and honoring that true unity is not uniformity. it’s recognizing the image of God in each and every person and the value that that person, with their unique beliefs, perspectives, gifts, and experiences, brings to the community.

my dream is that more and more people will experiment with radically different models of living in community together in a wide variety of contexts.

the world doesn’t need more “churches” but i think it desperately needs more communities.

what are some of your thoughts & experiences on the difference between cultivating communities & building churches?


ps: i’ve got a post up this week at sheloves magazine that folds right into this. communities are a place to help remind us who we really are, because sometimes we forget.  i hope we can play our part in helping others remember the image of God they bring to this world.

healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, dreams, equality, faith shifts, incarnational, leadership, women in ministry 29 Comments

henri nouwen we keep forgetting who we are

it was a great weekend at transform 2014 in san diego. it was lovely & inspiring hanging out with old friends & making some new ones, and on my middle-of-the-night-and-trying-to-stay-awake drive from san diego to LAX to catch a morning standby flight that ended up getting cancelled, i had a lot of time to reflect.

and a weird thing happened as i was driving:  i started crying for the church

no matter how mad i get at it, no matter how frustrated i am at the same-old-same-old conversations, no matter how grieved i feel over how far it has strayed from what i think was the big idea, i still love it.

i still believe that it could and should be the most transforming force in the world since it’s supposed to be the representative, the ambassador, the living-flesh-and-blood spirit of Jesus here on earth. 

i still believe in what could be.

i still believe that somehow it will prevail even though i think it will begin to look much different.

through some different encounters, i was struck this weekend by how broken the church is, how divided we have become, how much pain exists, how the chasm between progressives & evangelicals is so hard to bridge, how difficult it is for us to find unity in the midst of this tricky shift in christianity.

i also saw so much hope & beauty that is emerging despite the obstacles. 

i am incredibly grateful to be connected to people who truly care about change and are trying to be ministers of hope in the midst.  it is no easy task.

as i was driving in the dark up I-5, i was thinking that while i firmly believe we need dreamers & boat-rockers & prophets to speak into change in the church and help everyone imagine a better future, i also think there’s a critical need for another group to rise up to help nurture this movement as it struggles and strains to move to new places:  we desperately need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators!


this is what’s sorely missing.

the pain, the division, the fear, the criticism, the mistrust is so real.

i am more convinced than ever we need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators–guides, pastors & shepherds (the good kind), and spiritual midwives–to make it to the other side. 

here’s the role they can play:

healers / there is an incredible amount of woundedness related to faith & church & life. the stories sometimes make me weep, so many deeply dedicated people who have lost so much along the way–beliefs & doctrine, structures & churches and relationships & community.  we need people who won’t minimize this pain or magnify it but will tend to it with love & offer safe spaces and places for stories to be told and hope to be found so we can begin to get up off our knees and walk again. faith shifts are hard but don’t have to be quite as devastating, but because there are so few healing communities to grieve properly, we get stuck and lost in the process. we need more healing spaces, therapists, pastors, and spiritual directors & guides to help us navigate these changes & uncover hope.

bridge-builders / if we’re not careful, this evangelical-progressive theological war is going to get worse & worse. we all can see how it’s getting crazier by the day. as a person who’s done my share of bridge-bombing, i feel clear it’s time for me to enter into a better season of bridge-building.  we need people who can hold the space for dignified dialogue between those of more liberal persuasions and those of more conservative ones. to find what we agree on instead of only center on what we don’t. to lay down our swords & harmful words and find ways to make peace. to learn to listen & understand each other better. to learn to agree to disagree and put love & relationship above all. to foster unity and diversity, not uniformity. to cross divides between government agencies & different faith streams & other brothers and sisters who care about similar things.

community cultivators / there’s a big difference between building churches and cultivating communities. we definitely need new wineskins for new wine, more women, more shared leadership, more living systems. we need places of equality & justice & healing and vibrant & diverse & flexible & challenging & transformational communities of all shapes and sizes to emerge. we need so many more options for people who leave traditional church to actually find places to live out their passion for justice & mercy & community & healing with others without feeling so lonely & fragmented. we need little pockets of love and freedom to pop up all over the place so that we can all become more whole. we need communities of contemplative action, nurtured by a deep sense of God’s presence & calling and bravely dedicated to practice. we need people and groups who will partner with government agencies, non-faith-based organizations, other nonprofits & churches-not-like-us for the common good; collaboration is what will sustain us.

yeah, we need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators to help nurture a more hopeful future.

without them, the bruises & scars of all this change are going to be our defining mark instead of signs of life & hope.

if you are some form of a healer, a bridge-builder, a community cultivator, please know your gifts, your heart, your presence, your leadership, your imagination is desperately needed out here.

we need to you to help us remember who we are.

may you step up and out and help us all move toward a better place together.

new life through nonviolent communication

kathyescobar friendship, incarnational, just because i thought it was fun, relationships, synchroblog, the refuge 23 Comments

vulnerablity is a path to peace

this month’s synchroblog is called new life and where we are experiencing it in our lives right now. as soon as i get the link list, i’ll post it at the bottom of this post and you can read other bloggers sharing stories of new life, too.

when i get a topic prompt, sometimes i like to go with the very first thought that comes to my mind, even if it seems kind of weird or a-little-off-center. and here’s what i thought of first for “new life”:  this week, i am seeing new life come from learning more about nonviolent communication.

here’s what the center for nonviolent communication says about their resources:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is based on the principles of nonviolence– the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart.

NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.

People who practice NVC have found greater authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution.

a friend shared some of these tools earlier this month at our advocates gathering, which is a bi-monthly group at the refuge to gain skills & encouragement for journeying with people in hard places. whoa, it was so awesome, and a little like when i first learned about the enneagram–a whole new world has opened up that is challenging, hard, and so good.

i will not be able to do it justice in a short blog post, but here are a few highlights, in my own words:

we have a language construct that is based on blame & judgment that fosters violence. this is why there is so much division between us.

the path to peace and greater intimacy and connection in relationship is through nonviolent communication which focuses on 4 things:

  • observations
  • feelings
  • needs
  • requests

here’s a brief description: 

observations. making observations without judgment is one of the hardest things in the world to do. we did a little exercise where we looked at a picture and shared our thoughts about it. out of about 30+ different perspectives, only 3 of them were not judgments or evaluations.  crazy.

feelings. getting in touch with our feelings is easier for some than others. i know for me, even though i talk about feelings a lot, negatives ones are often difficult for me. there are a whole deck of feelings cards that go with nonviolent communication and help us identify what’s going on inside. empathy is a central skill here. the good part about the deck of cards or this list is that they don’t include words that are called “jackal language”, subtle feeling words that point to blame and judgment. some of these words include: abandoned, ignored, unloved, misunderstood. it doesn’t mean these feelings aren’t real; it just means that they won’t help us get to deeper connection in relationship and will keep us divided. honestly, i use some of these words all of the time in certain relationships.

needs.  this is the part that is often missing in communication, that underneath feelings we have needs. there are need cards, too, but some of them include the need for: meaning, connection, safety, peace, nurturing, authenticity, to be known, understanding. my friend shared that needs are the “life inside of another person.” and that part of relationship with each other is calling out that life. it’s also where we can better understand where a person is coming from and honor that often we have similar needs but are trying to get them met in different ways. an example she used was the sandy hook tragedy. for some people, underneath their response was a need for safety. however, one person might fulfill that need by buying a gun while another might begin lobbying for gun control. when we begin to recognize and respect our own needs–and commit ourselves to understand others’–then we can begin to move toward a more hopeful place.  the root of all violence is unmet needs. that’s what’s happening right now with all this world vision craziness.

requests. the last major movement in non-violent communication is requests. i am so much better at expressing my feelings & possibly a need or two, but actually making a request. yikes! this is what makes nonviolent communication so vulnerable, so good.  the most important part about requests that i gleaned was that they need to be concrete, specific, positive, and immediately do-able. when i think about divisions between two people, in groups, and in the wider world, i can see how helpful this piece of communication really is.

in so many ways, these principles seem simple, but the reality is that i know very few people who communicate this way. go to the wider world and consider where there are deeper divisions related to politics and religion, and it’s definitely non-existent.

i believe the work of the church is to help people become better human beings, yet some of these crucial skills are sorely missing in so many of our communities. i think it’s because these kinds of communication skills often get dismissed as too therapy-ish, too-feeling-ish, too-unspiritual.  yet, when i consider all the beatitudes but especially matthew 5:9, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”, this couldn’t be more appropriate. peacemaking doesn’t mean avoiding conflict; it means building shalom, integrity, wholeness in relationship within our own heart and with each other.  

i have been so reminded how much i have to keep learning. 

this tool is a building block to connection, to love, to peace. and it’s not only a bridge to healthy interpersonal relationships, but also to healthier groups, organizations, and systems.

these skills are the foundation for peacemaking.

they can help bring life. 


ps: because i always like tangible tools, here are some charts  that i pulled together that can help identify feelings, needs, and some of those words that probably won’t help in communication.

also, here are other bloggers writing on new life in different ways:

when the GPS won’t get us where we need to go

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts 27 Comments

dr suess choose

this past weekend i had to drive in new york. fortunately, it was not too complicated, from la guardia airport to connecticut; however, it was at night, with 3 of my kids and not my most favorite thing to do.  my son was the navigator and would translate the GPS for me so i knew in advance what was next.

about 15 minutes in, the GPS told us to do something that just seemed…wrong.  it didn’t match up with my gut on which direction we should go.  i followed it, and sure enough–it lead us off course.

after a brief freak-out between my son and i when i realized we were in a random neighborhood in new york city on a saturday night, we made it back to our original route. then,  the same thing happened.  it told us to go on a side highway when we were already on the main freeway that we would be taking the entire rest of the way.

this time, i ignored it and went with what i knew was right for us. 

i told my son–sometimes you have to be smarter than the GPS and you just “know” where you need to actually go. but it’s hard when the woman is yelling at you “re-routing, re-routing” to try to get us back on track.

once i knew we were on the right path, i told jamison to turn the GPS off, that we could take it from here. then i had a lot of time on the road to think.  the first thing that came to mind after “it sucks to drive in new york and i wish jose were here chauffeuring me around instead” was:  this is what happens when our faith shifts, too.

the GPS–the church-as-we-knew-it, the system, the road-map, the directions–are telling us to go one way, how we need to get there.

but our gut, our heart is saying “umm, no, that’s just not the path for us anymore.”

sometimes we know better where we actually need to go.  our souls are telling us. the holy spirit is stirring us in deep places to go a different direction. 

yet, it’s often hard to ignore the old route, especially when we see so many other people taking it with no problem. going on sundays like always, happy in their faith, humming along and following the rules without blinking.

most of us followed that path for a long time.  it felt right to fall into line and do what the GPS told us to do without really thinking much about it.

however, then it started to lead us to a place that no longer brought us life.

we began to see its limits. our eyes were opened to inequality and injustice. we were tired of listening and longed to participate. we wanted to let God out of the box instead of nestled safely in our limited minds. we became bored.  we were tired of feeling lonely when we were surrounded by people. we wanted to wrestle with the Bible more honestly instead of being told what we were supposed to believe about it. we wanted to be challenged, not shamed.  we wanted to have a place to be honest instead of pretend.

we wanted to be free to go a different direction and have that be okay.

God doesn’t always use the GPS system everyone else bought and is following. i’m not saying that the many people who are in the traditional system and doing fine are wrong.  i respect it works for so many (and worked just fine for me for a lot of years, too).

the part that i want to honor is that it stopped working for another growing group of us, and it’s not because we are unfaithful, rebellious, and unwilling-to-submit-to-the-GPS-out-of-a-hardened-heart.  yeah, sometimes we have to ignore the GPS and go the direction that God is leading us, even if it feels like it is so off-course & disorienting and the lady keeps yelling at us “re-routing, re-routing….turn back! turn back!”

we have to trust that that stirring in our soul is worth paying attention to.

we have to honor that that longing our heart for freedom deserves tending to.

we have to slow down and get in touch with where we really do need to turn and which direction we might need to go even when it feels weird to go off-course.

we have to listen to God, not man. 

one of the best decisions i have ever made in my life was ignoring the GPS and leaving traditional church to start the refuge and let myself veer off the path i had followed for so long.  it’s been so freeing, but at the same time, i can’t tell you the number of times i have second guessed myself, thinking “maybe the GPS was right and i’m just going to end up completely lost in the end.”

even though it can feel like that, extremely disorienting and somehow-not-quite-right to get off the mainstream course, in the end it has lead me to life, not death. to freedom, not bondage. to hope, not despair.  to beauty, not destruction.

it makes me think that when Jesus said “follow me,” he didn’t mean blindly follow the GPS.

he meant “follow me.”and sometimes he leads us to all kinds of crazy off-course places that are actually where we’re supposed to go even when everyone else following the directions thinks we’re a bit nuts.     

that’s okay, we need to trust we’re not off course.

we’re going a different direction for a reason.